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Sharif May Not Be Ready For Changing Islamabad’s Afghan Policy

nawaz sharif

In the neighboring Pakistan, PML-N, a political party under Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former prime minister, is about to come into power. As any other new government, the new government in Islamabad is expected to make changes in the policies that are applied before. In the following rows the feasibility of change the new government may create in the Pakistan’s policies on Afghanistan is argued

In south Asia, in particular, among rival Pakistan, India and Afghanistan religious extremism consistently has affected things as a ghastly security threat. It has turned into a more complicated issue since it is related to multiple issues of security and contradicting regional interests. Perceiving religious extremism as an accessible and more drastic tool, Pakistan has used it as a tool of control against its domestic threats and as a strategic tool against its hostile neighboring states.

In hostility with India, particularly, over the Kashmir issue, Pakistan since long has used religious extremists as a strategic tool to manipulate politics in Kashmir and to disturb India through terrorist moves and suicide attacks. Pakistani supports for anti-Indian extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir, the terrorist attacks by Pakistani agents in Mumbai in the previous years and the attacks on Indian assets in Afghanistan are the recent examples.

The tow neighboring countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan have historically endured contentions over multiple issues. The Durand line which was established after an 1893 agreement between Mortimer Durand of British India and Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman khan has been the most problematic territorial issue between the neighboring countries. The recent cross border clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan sincerely indicates of the historical disputes over the territorial issue.

The strong Indian presence in Afghanistan is taken into account as a security threat in Islamabad. According to Islamabad, the strong Indian involvement in reconstructions in Afghanistan makes an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan and also the Indian presence in Afghanistan puts a negative impact on the Durand line issue according to Pakistan. As well The Pakistani strategists believe India via its wide engagements in Afghanistan supports the Balluch separatists in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan.

The Soviet Union withdrawal in 1989 and the post soviet withdrawal Afghan civil wars put an ideological vacuum in Afghanistan. The religious fundamentalism through Pakistani and Arab manipulations filled the vacuum. The Pakistan and Arab backed militant Taliban which benefits a link with al-Qaeda is an internationally recognized example to prove the claim. This fundamental movement is worldwide known for its proxy role in Afghanistan and the threats it poses in the region.

Pakistan besides other tools, through religious extremists consistently implements the Pakistani agenda in Afghanistan. Perceiving an Indian backed Afghanistan as a security threat which pursues a demand for a greater ethnic state on condition of Pakistan’s partition, Pakistan has traditionally desired a troubled Afghanistan. In addition, Rivalry with India-a traditional Pakistan’s foe- and economic reasons are the main ambitions that Pakistan sees it can maintain with a weak Afghanistan.

Beside humanitarian aides, in order to defuse Pakistan backed religious militancy threat, India, over the past decade has greatly improved ties with Afghanistan and has invested heavily in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Perceiving the common threat, Afghanistan and India have signed The India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement in October 2011 which provides the staging ground for an increased military cooperation with Afghanistan. Under the agreement, India provides — though to a limited extent — training support and light military equipment to Afghan forces which directly add to the worries in Islamabad.

Recognizing the economic problems in the west and India’s significant economic and development contributions in the Afghanistan’s reconstruction projects, the United States has called on New Delhi to play an important role in the new Silk Road initiative aimed at transforming Afghanistan into a regional trade hub. It comes while India necessitates the central Asian resources in order to keep continuing the growing path of its economy.

Recently the Pakistan Muslim League under Nawaz Sharif secured a victory in the Pakistan’s general parliamentary elections. According to experts, the new government under Nawaz Sharif will normalize ties with India to attract Indian investments in order to prevent a near economic bankruptcy in Pakistan and to deal with widespread unemployment. Over more, Sharif will have to deal with the officials in the White house, particularly if he wants their support to gain the huge loans from the IMF and the World Bank that Pakistan desperately needs.

Islamabad’s deal under Sharif with the White House and the New Delhi may persuade the Pakistani officials to bring changes in Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan, particularly regarding its support to extremist groups in the region. But the dominant circumstances in Pakistan don’t help to prove a real change. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League has already voiced anger at Washington, in particular over the use of drone missiles. Sharif bears an experience of reconciliation towards the Islamic extremism during his previous rules.

The powerful army with its intelligence branch, ISI, in Pakistan enjoys its influential power over the country due to hostility outside the border. The army sincerely understands that normalizing ties with the rival states develops the idea among the public to diminish the army that expenses more than half of the national budget through military privileges. The collapse of Sharif’s government in his last terms due to his strong tendency towards normalizing relationships with India is an acceptable example.

In the political history of Pakistan the collapse of elected governments by the army and its ISI is not something rare. In Pakistan the struggle over the power between the elected governments and the country’s powerful army most often has ended in the collapse of the civilian government by the powerful army. The twice previous collapse of Sharif’s government by the army is a primary example for the matter.

There are many issues in Pakistan that need to be addressed by the new government. Amending ties with India, US. Drone attacks, the fledgling economy, the power shortage, widespread unemployment across the country, insurgency and the disputed relations with Afghanistan and ties with the United States are a wide range of important issues that seem the new government will not be able to overcome and gain the public heart. And the powerful army in Pakistan seems maintain its wide influence in the country and possibly contend the elected government particularly in policies on militancy and the foreign policy. As a final say by establishment of a new government in Islamabad there won’t come a remarkable change in Pakistan’s policies on Afghanistan.

Mohammad Yasin Sultani is a permanent writer of the Daily Afghanistan Express. He can be contacted through yaasin.sultani@gmail.com

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